‘EU starts war machine to wean itself off US weapons’

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 6th March 2024

The European Commission on Tuesday presented a European Defence Industrial Strategy alongside a subsidy cash pot of at least €1.5 billion called the European Defence Investment Programme. Politico reports EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton underlined, during the presentation of the strategy, that Europe is facing an “existential threat”. He steered clear of politically-charged pitches such as building a European army, and focused instead on where Brussels actually has a competence: the single market. However, Politico notes, some of the proposals are far-reaching: they include copying the US Foreign Military Sales system to help EU countries build up weapons stocks and make it easier to sell weapons, as well as the power to redirect civilian industry to defence in case of an emergency, together with financial incentives for more joint weapons procurement.

Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned: “In response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the EU must bolster its defence capabilities.” If member countries agree, it will mark the end of the post-Cold War peace dividend that saw military spending shrivel.

“[The strategy] is not an answer to the war in Ukraine, but rather a broader response to a strategic paradigm shift. It’s a recognition that [defense] is a subject that’s not going to go away for a while,” said Camille Grand, a former NATO assistant secretary-general and now a distinguished policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

It’s all about building up the bloc’s military-industrial complex as well as decreasing Europe’s reliance on American weapons, an especially acute fear as Donald Trump rises in the polls ahead of this year’s US election. This week’s defence plan does not contradict the EU’s initial aim to prevent war on Europe’s soil, according to Riho Terras, a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) and former commander of the Estonian military. “Europe has to be prepared for war, and since it’s an economic union, we should concentrate on the defence industry,” he said.

Cash should go only to European companies, according to the Commission’s thinking. Ukraine will be treated as a quasi-member country and will be allowed to participate in joint weapons purchases. The EU’s executive branch insists it is not overstepping. “Defence must remain a national responsibility,” Breton told French media on Monday. “It’s not about changing the treaties, it’s about working better together within the framework of the treaties.” As it’s a regulation, the investment programme will need sign-off from both capitals and the European Parliament.

The success of the defence strategy will also ultimately depend on how much cash it gets. While the European Defence Industrial Programme is expected to be worth at least €1.5 billion, much more will be needed if Brussels is serious about building up a competitive industrial complex. Ultimately, Europe needs €100 billion, according to Breton. The €1.5 billion is “not a lot of money when it comes to the defence industry – but it can still work as an incentive, as a bonus, as what makes member states come together,” admitted Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager.

Trump, Biden cruise through Super Tuesday primaries  

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden racked up big wins on Super Tuesday, with Trump’s near sweep of the night’s Republican primaries all but locking in a Trump-Biden repeat matchup. One exception to the trend was the razor-thin margin in Vermont’s open primary, where voters in the state gave Nicky Haley a win.

Trump has swept to victory in tonight’s Republican primaries in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Maine, Arkansas and Texas, CNN projects. The former president is hoping to establish a commanding lead in the delegate count and vanquish his only opponent, Nikki Haley, who has said little about her plans for beyond Super Tuesday, though her campaign has continued to rake in the millions of dollars needed to stay in the race. Trump claimed his eleventh victory of the night by winning the Minnesota Republican primary, according to the Associated Press. The race was called for the former president after Trump won 70 per cent of votes with 24 per cent of the ballots counted. In his victory speech, Trump  described the results as “an amazing night” and said he would unify what he said was a “divided country”.

On the Democratic side, President Joe Biden isn’t facing any major competition, and has won all the Democratic contests so far, according to CNN, as he gears up for a likely rematch with Trump in November. In a statement tonight, Biden said a second Trump term would be a return to “chaos, division, and darkness”. He warned Americans had a choice between moving forward or returning to the “darkness that defined” Trump’s period in office.

According to polling averages from The Hill and Decision Desk HQ, Trump holds a national lead of four points over Biden. And an analysis of the latest New York Times/Siena College poll shows Trump appears to have strong support among the “did not vote” demographic that could decide this year’s election in November. Nearly half of voters who did not cast a ballot in the 2020 election, 49 per cent, said they are more enthusiastic about Trump compared to 33 per cent for Biden, according to the NYT/Siena poll released Saturday.

EPP delegates meet in congress in Bucharest today

The European People’s Party (EPP) will begin its annual two-day congress in Bucharest today, Wednesday. The programme will cover electing the party’s lead candidate for president of the European Commission, preparing for the European Parliament elections in June, and adopting the EPP electoral manifesto. In February, Ursula von der Leyen announced she would seek a second term as president of the European Commission. She made the announcement at an event of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, a member of the EPP political family. Today’s event is co-hosted by the Romanian National Liberal Party (PNL), EPP president Manfred Weber, and EPP secretary general Thanasis Bakolas. Bucharest last hosted an EPP congress in 2012.

The path to negotiations will not be open indefinitely’ Hamas

“We will not allow the path to negotiations to remain open indefinitely while organised aggression and famine against our people continues,” Hamas leader Osama Hamdan told a news conference in Beirut. “If they are serious about reaching a ceasefire before Ramadan, it is in the hands of the Americans to exert sufficient pressure on the Israelis,” Hamas head of political and international relations Bassem Naim said in a voice message, according to, and as reported by, Sky News. A Hamas delegation participated in the new round of talks with mediators in Cairo and, according to Naim, is now waiting for a response from Israel.

Reuters quotes President Biden saying that it was in the hands of Hamas whether to accept a deal for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages, as delegations held a third day of talks with no sign of a breakthrough. Negotiators from the Palestinian militant group, Qatar and Egypt – but not Israel – are in Cairo trying to secure a 40-day ceasefire in Hamas’ war with Israel in time for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins early next week. The deal presented to Hamas would free some hostages captured by Palestinian militants in the October attack that precipitated the war, while aid to Gaza would be increased to try to avert famine as hospitals treat acutely malnourished children, and Hamas would provide a list of all the hostages held in Gaza. The release of sick, wounded, elderly and women hostages would result in an immediate ceasefire in Gaza of at least six weeks, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani stressed at a meeting on Tuesday, the White House said.

Meanwhile, a high-level Egyptian source told state TV al Qahera that “negotiations continue in Cairo to reach a truce in the Gaza Strip and a new round between the parties will be held tomorrow”.

Israel welcomes UN report on Hamas rapes

Israel has welcomed the UN’s final recognition that Hamas committed sexual crimes on October 7 in the major report published by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Lior Haiat, said. “For the first time a United Nations official has explicitly acknowledged the sexual crimes committed by Hamas and other terrorist organisations on October 7,” he said. Haiat stated that “the UN also recognises that the crimes were committed simultaneously in different locations highlighting a series of rapes, torture and sexual abuse” and “acknowledges the existence of ongoing sexual crimes against Israeli women and men held hostage by Hamas in Gaza and calls for the immediate release of the hostages.”

At the same time, Patten’s team also went to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank where stakeholders alleged “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment… including the increased use of various forms of sexual violence, namely invasive body searches; threats of rape; and prolonged forced nudity” on Palestinians in detention, the UN report wrote. Israel rejected the report’s call to investigate Palestinian allegations regarding “sexual violence by Israeli elements”. Haiat said: “This is a mocking Palestinian manoeuver deliberately aimed at creating an intolerable equivalence between the horrific crimes committed, and which harmful and unfounded statements against Israel and Israelis still continue to be committed by Hamas.” The report, which called for a full investigation, comes nearly five months after the October 7 attacks, which left about 1,200 people dead and some 250 others taken hostage with 132 still missing. Israel’s war against Hamas has since laid waste to the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,631, women and children make up around two-thirds of the total casualties, and wounding 72,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation.

An Israeli airstrike killed at least 17 people in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis on Tuesday, Palestinian officials said. The Israeli military said in a statement that it was carrying out targeted raids on militant infrastructure in Khan Younis while trying to evacuate civilians from the area.

US destroyer shoots down drone and missile near Yemen

A US destroyer has shot down drones and a missile launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels as attacks on vessels in the Red Sea skyrocket. News of the neutralised attack emerged after India’s navy released images of a fire onboard container ship ‘MSC Sky II’, which was targeted by the Houthis in the Gulf of Aden. The USS Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was involved in the attempted missile strike – one of a number influenced by the group’s discontent with Israel’s war against Hamas. Bomb-carrying drones and one anti-ship ballistic missile were deployed by Houthi, the US military’s Central Command said. In retaliation, the US destroyed three anti-ship missiles and three bomb-carrying drone boats in a missile strike. Brigadier General Yahya Saree, a Houthi military spokesman, warned in the aftermath that they “will not stop until the aggression is stopped and the siege on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is lifted”. An estimated 22 Houthi fighters have been killed in American-coordinated strikes since January, though the group has yet to confirm the official figure.

Peru’s PM, accused of corruption, resigns

The Prime Minister of Peru, Alberto Otárola, announced that he had submitted his resignation to President Dina Boluarte after the release in recent days of an audio in which he offered a contract to a young woman ‘friend’. Having returned from Canada where he was on a business trip, Otárola formalised the abandonment of his position before being received by the head of state who had requested his explanations. The audio, broadcast on the TV programme ‘Panorama’, concerned a phone call in which the prime minister spoke to a young woman, Yaziré Pinedo, asking her for a CV and the possibility of meeting her. In the investigation opened by the Prosecutor’s Office, it emerged that last year Pinedo obtained two payments, for a sum equivalent to €12,800, from the Ministry of Defence, for which Otárola was responsible before taking over the leadership of the government.

Asian markets mostly down as China sets 5% growth goal

Asian markets largely fell on Tuesday after China set a five percent annual growth target and Wall Street shares dropped ahead of the release of key US economic indicators. Tokyo and Hong Kong dipped at the open, a day after Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index hit a record high, closing above 40,000 points for the first time. Wall Street retreated on Monday as investors locked in profits after recent rallies fuelled by tech optimism. Hong Kong stocks were down more than two percent and Shanghai was flat. Sydney, Wellington, Seoul, Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were down, while Taipei and Manila were up.

In China on Tuesday, leaders set a 2024 growth target of five percent, in line with last year’s GDP gains but well off the double-digit expansion that for years drove the world’s second-largest economy. At the National People’s Congress, the focus this week is on China’s struggling economy, which is beset by a prolonged property sector crisis, record youth unemployment, and a global slowdown that is hammering demand for Chinese exports. China has said it will cut tariffs on advanced technology and open fresh channels for foreign trade, as well as raise the military budget to 7.2 per cent.

Paparazzo shoots Kate Middleton photograph

Kate Middleton has been photographed by a paparazzo in Windsor after feverish speculation over whether she was “missing” in the aftermath of her abdominal surgery. TMZ ran images taken, seemingly on a long lens, as she sat in the passenger seat of a car driven by her mother Carole Middleton. The US tabloid website said the images were captured near Windsor Castle while the Daily Mail speculated the pair may have been returning home after a school run, reporting they were taken shortly before 9 am. The Princess of Wales had not been seen since Christmas Day. Pressure had been mounting on Kensington Palace to release a picture of Kate as wild theories blossomed on social media, including claims by a Spanish journalist that she was in a medically-induced coma, which aides told Newsweek were “ludicrous”. However, the fact paparazzi images have been captured during a sensitive recovery period and, if the Mail’s speculation is correct, at a sensitive moment on the school run, is now a major challenge to the palace’s hard line on privacy. No UK outlet has so far run the pictures with some, including ITV royal editor Chris Ship, publicly citing her privacy as the reason. He wrote on X: “There are pap picture of the Princess of Wales. We are not running them out of respect for her privacy whilst she recovers from her operation in the timescale we were given for it. As far as I know, no other UK broadcaster or newspaper has published the photos either.”

Access is restored after Facebook and Instagram outage

Meta said it had resolved a technical issue with its platforms, including Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram, after what appeared to be an hourslong outage on Tuesday. After user reports of an outage that lasted about two hours, Meta said it had fixed the issue that caused the sites to go down. “We resolved the issue as quickly as possible for everyone who was impacted, and we apologise for any inconvenience,” Andy Stone, a spokesman for Meta, wrote on X. However, some still reported having trouble with the platforms.

Italian priest sentenced to 4½ years for sexual assault

In Italy, the Enna court sentenced Don Giuseppe Rugolo, a priest accused of aggravated sexual violence against minors, to four-and-a-half years in prison. The sentence was issued after 8 hours of deliberation. It was read by the president of the court Francesco Pitarresi during an open-door hearing after the entire trial had been conducted behind closed doors. The investigation began after a complaint from Antonio Messina, a young man now in his thirties, who told the Enna flying squad about the violence he suffered from 2009 to 2013.

Photo: Fabian Bimmer/Getty Images

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